Posts Tagged ‘Catalonia’

Spanish election call adds to Eurozone unease

February 16, 2019

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Friday called an early general election, the third such ballot in the nation in as many years. However, far from being an exception, the latest governmental uncertainty in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy comes as there are mounting signs of political stress and stagnating growth in other core EU countries including Germany, France and Italy.

With the Eurozone celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the single currency area stands on the brink of yet another downturn. And this even before the possibility next month of a no-deal Brexit that could send economic shockwaves across the continent.

By Andrew Hammond

Pedro Sanchéz

The Spanish election, to be held on April 28, comes only seven months after Sánchez was sworn in as the nation’s prime minister. And that political instability is mirrored in France, where President Emmanuel Macron remains under severe pressure from the so-called “yellow vest” protests; in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long period in power is now in its twilight; and in Italy, where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was forced on Friday to dismiss speculation that reported tension between coalition partners the Five Star Movement and the League could cause it to collapse.

Moreover, this political angst, alongside the continuing drama of Brexit, appears to be contributing toward flagging European economic growth. On Wednesday, for instance, it was announced that Eurozone factories saw a production slump in December for the second month in a row.

Industrial production was 0.9 percent lower in December than November, the fourth fall in six months, according to the Eurostat statistics agency. And overall, the Eurozone grew by only 0.2 percent in the last three months of 2018.

During that period, Italy fell into recession, in a blow to its populist right-wing government that has promised to rejuvenate growth. And it was announced Thursday that Germany only very narrowly avoided a recession after the nation’s GDP was flat in the October-December quarter, following a contraction from July to September.

It is amidst these economic woes that the latest Spanish political setback comes, causing deep uncertainty over the nation’s future governance. The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE), which currently leads polls with around 30 percent of support, is nonetheless still widely blamed for the fact that it was also in government around a decade ago when the Spanish economy went into deep recession, and currently has only 84 MPs in the 350-seat legislature. This tally follows the Socialists’ worst national election showing — in 2016 — since Spain transitioned to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The fragile legislative position of the PSOE, which has headed a minority government since the middle of last year, should be seen in the context of an even bigger story in Spanish politics following the June 2016 election, in which no party emerged with an overall majority.

A dominant narrative of that ballot, the second in the space of six months, was the shattering of the long-running post-Franco political duopoly of the right-of-center People’s Party (PP) and the PSOE that has dominated the country since the late 1970s. Indeed, the combined vote of the PP and PSOE, which comprised around 85 percent of the ballot in the 2008 general election, fell to around 55 percent in 2016.

Several “new” parties have helped fill the political vacuum, including the far-right nationalist party, Vox, which could secure parliamentary seats for the first time this spring.

Other recently arrived parties include the left-wing, anti-austerity Podemos and Izquierda Unida (collectively known as Unidos Podemos) — seen as the sister grouping of the ruling Syriza in Greece — and the centrist, business-friendly Ciudadano.

The rise of these groups has been fueled by popular anger over political scandals, the fallout from the deepest economic recession in the country for over a generation, and the growing political clamor for independence in Catalonia.

As well as the economic pain and political scandals of recent years, a key backdrop to this spring’s election is the tension between Madrid and separatists in Catalonia over the enduring territorial and political crisis. Separatist tensions reached a spike in 2017 when Catalonia sought to break away from Spain in a referendum. While this dramatically escalated the issue, the backdrop for the event was rising support for Catalan independence since 2010, when a reform to extend the regional government’s powers was struck down by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

With the potential for significant continuing political uncertainty in Spain, financial markets may become increasingly jittery, as the election outcome may not provide even short-term — let alone medium- or long-term — stability.

If political problems were to increase significantly in coming weeks, as pre-election polling begins, this would have the potential to undermine the Spanish economic recovery from the worst recession in decades, which saw a property crash and unemployment peaking at 27 percent (almost 60 percent for young adults under 24).

Taken overall, the new Spanish governmental uncertainty is a microcosm of wider political angst within the Eurozone. This instability in its core nations may yet help drive the single currency area into a significant new slump, especially if the shock of a no-deal Brexit adds to the continent’s current woes.

  • Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view


Spain to hold early election on April 28

February 15, 2019

Spain’s government has called early elections to be held in April. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the Socialist party had governed for nearly eight months after a no-confidence vote ousted former PM Mariano Rajoy.

Spanish parliament

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Friday that Spain will hold early general elections on April 28. The move comes after the socialist PSOE government’s budget legislation was defeated in parliament.

“Spain needs to keep advancing, progressing with tolerance, respect, moderation and common sense,” Sanchez told Spaniards in a television address. “I have proposed to dissolve parliament and call elections for April 28,” the prime minister said.

The elections will be the third parliamentary vote in Spain in a three and a half year period and will take place roughly one month before EU parliamentary elections are held.

“During these eight months, we have heard things that are very dangerous,” Sanchez said of the current political discourse in Spain, during a press conference the announcement.

The socialist leader denounced the conservative opposition as obstructionist and decried right-wing accusations that he was an “illegitimate” head of government.

Budget impasse

To be approved, Sanchez’s budget had hinged on the support of two separatist Catalan parties, who demanded that Spain recognize the region’s right to self-determination in exchange for their vote.

Additionally, a trial of 12 separatist leaders that began last week in Madrid, further angered the Catalan parliamentary bloc.

The ruling socialist party ultimately rejected their demands and the budget was defeated.

“You may call me traditional, but one cannot govern without a budget,” Sanchez conceded to reporters on Friday.

Read more: Spain: Will a snap election spell the end for Pedro Sanchez?

A brief tenure

Sanchez has led Spain for merely eight months, after his predecessor Mariano Rajoy of the conservative party was ousted in a dramatic parliamentary no-confidence vote.

PSOE’s fragile minority government was sustained by a tenuous coalition of far-left Podemos party, Basque nationalist lawmakers and — crucially — 17 Catalan separatist MPs.

Opinion polls project that Sanchez could obtain a large share of the vote, but the socialists would be unable to form a majority in parliament, even with the support of Podemos.

Read more: How dangerous is Spain’s far-right Vox party?

The conservative parties PP, Ciudadanos and far-right Vox, which has seen a surge in support recently, could be able to form a majority together. Such a union has already been formed in regional parliament of Andalusia, after local elections took place there in December.

jcg/rt (EFE, AFP)

Catalan leaders put Spanish government on the ropes

February 13, 2019

Spain’s prime minister could be forced to call an early general election if Catalan separatists reject, as expected, the minority socialist government’s 2019 budget in a crucial parliamentary vote.

Pierre-Philippe Marcou, AFP | Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives to attend a debate on the government’s 2019 budget during a parliament session in Madrid on February 13, 2019.

Barring a last minute deal that touches on the sensitive issue of Catalan self-determination, the separatist lawmakers will join Spain’s right-wing opposition in voting against the ruling socialists’ spending plan on Wednesday.

Pedro Sanchez became prime minister last year when the Catalans joined the anti-austerity Podemos and other smaller parties in backing a no-confidence vote against his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.

But Sanchez’s socialist party holds only 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house.

Negotiations with the new separatist coalition that took power in the northeastern Catalonia region after the 2017 independence push broke down last week when Sanchez’s government refused to accept self-determination talks.


Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez expected to call for snap election

February 13, 2019

Facing impending defeat on a budget vote, Spain’s government will likely announce fresh elections, to take place in April. The ruling socialist party currently leads, with 30 percent approval from voters.

Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (picture-alliance/AP/A. Comas)

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the country’s minority Socialist government is set to announce on Wednesday whether or not he will call for an early general election.

The decision follows tough negotiations for a new budget, which will be up for a vote in the Spanish parliament on Wednesday.

In a tweet, Sanchez had said he expected both right-wing and pro-independence lawmakers to vote against his budget. “They both want the same: A divided Catalonia and a divided Spain,” he said.

Pedro Sánchez


Tras 7 años de injusticia social, las derechas y el independentismo votarán en contra de unos sociales. Ambos quieren lo mismo: una enfrentada a sí misma y una enfrentada a sí misma. Nosotros trabajamos por una Cataluña en convivencia para una España unida.

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Sanchez’s government has so far refused to negotiate Catalan self-determination and as a result, the region’s two small pro-independence parties have rejected his budget legislation.

Addressing the impasse with Catalan parties, Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero told parliament that the Spanish government would “not give in to blackmail” over the budget.

Read more: Pedro Sanchez seizes historic opportunity to become Spain’s prime minister

But the Catalonian politicians dismissed the claim. “If there is no budget, it won’t be the Catalan pro-independence parties’ fault, it will be because you think you will benefit from an early election,” said Ferran Bel, from the Catalan PDeCat party, addressing the government.

A potential early election could likely take place on April 14 or 28, government sources said. Sanchez is said to be keen no holding an election as soon as possible, in order to mobilize left-leaning voters against the threat of the right returning to power.

Currently, Sanchez’s Socialists lead opinion polls, with roughly 30 percent of voters saying they would back the party. But the two main right-of-center parties Partido Popular (Popular Party) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) together have polled at more than 30 percent.

Read more: How dangerous is Spain’s far-right Vox party?

Catalan trial coincides with budget crisis

The start of the trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders on Tuesday in Madrid clashed with the budget negotiations and renewed tensions between the Spanish government and the autonomous region’s leadership.

Madrid accused the Catalan leaders of rebellion for their efforts in support of an independence referendum on October 1, 2017, which sparked one of Spain’s deepest political crisis since the country’s transition to democracy in the 1970s.

Catalonia’s regional government head Quim Torra traveled to Madrid for the opening of the trial and labeled it “an attack on democracy and human rights.” Torra told reporters that self-determination through a referendum had to be part of any dialogue with Madrid.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s former president, who fled Spain days after the independence declaration on October 27, will not be among the defendants at the trial, as Spain does not try suspects in absentia.

Puigdemont said in Berlin that the trial represented “a stress test for Spanish democracy.”

jcg/rc (EFE, Reuters, AFP)

Europe shaken as political systems splinter

January 9, 2019

Fragmentation of European politics

Matteo Salvini

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

By Ben Hall, Europe editor

When a Spanish nationalist party took 12 seats in Andalucia’s parliament last month, it was not just the latest example of rising populism in Europe. It also demonstrated a deeper trend that threatens to disrupt governance across the continent — the fragmentation of electorates and the parties that represent them.

Representation has splintered in almost every sizeable political system in Europe, making it harder to form governing coalitions, creating political instability and giving a voice to new formations on the radical left and right and in the political centre. “You have new dimensions in politics today,” said Hans Wallmark, a centre-right MP from Sweden. “Pessimists-optimists, centre-periphery. It is not so easy as when you had a left-right scale on which you could plot political choices.

“It is not necessarily a chaotic system, but a new political landscape is taking shape,” he added. “We are going to see it for many years.” Before the Andalucia breakthrough by Vox— in a country previously considered immune to far-right politics because of its Francoist past — Spain was already a four-party system, with socialists, the far-left, centre-right and liberals vying for power.

If Vox establishes a national appeal, there will be five, plus a smattering of Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalists.

People gather during a protest against Spain's cabinet meeting in Barcelona, Spain, December 21, 2018.

Catalan protesters in Spain. Reuters photo

Opinion polls suggest no party nationally enjoys backing of more than 24 per cent. It is not necessarily a chaotic system, but a new political landscape is taking shape Hans Wallmark, centre-right Swedish MP In Belgium, meanwhile, it took the country a world record 541 days to form a government after inconclusive elections in 2010.

Following the country’s 2014 polls, in which eight parties won between 33 and six seats each, it took five months to assemble a coalition — which collapsed last month. Mr Wallmark’s Sweden could be heading for more elections this year after parties failed to form a government following September’s poll.

No party wants to co-operate with the far-right Sweden Democrats, who won 17.5 per cent in the vote, but that means neither a centre-left nor a centre-right bloc can muster a majority in parliament. The losers from the fragmentation of European politics have mostly been mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties, as in Germany, where the populist rightwing Alternative for Germany and the left-leaning Greens have eaten into support for the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.

A protest organized by the AfD, and the Pegida and “Pro Chemnitz” movements | John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

In May’s European Parliament elections, the centre-left and centre-right blocs are likely to lose their majority for the first time in 25 years. Demonstrators in Malaga protest against the success of Spanish nationalists Vox in regional elections.

If the party establishes a national base it will further splinter an already fractured political scene Tarik Abou-Chadi, assistant professor at the University of Zurich and Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau, said three deep-seated reasons lay behind the trend: societies were becoming more individualised; big organisations such as trade unions, churches and political parties were “losing their capacity to link voters to a particular identity”; and political debate was becoming more “multi-dimensional”.

For example, he argued, it was no longer about capital versus labour, while some social liberals as well as conservatives now opposed immigration. [Mainstream parties are] like the old department stores of the 1960s competing with cool new boutiques Tarik Abou-Chadi Mainstream parties, Prof Abou-Chadi said, were increasingly less able to react quickly to new concerns and issues.

They were “like the old department stores of the 1960s competing with cool new boutiques.” The most extreme example of such fragmentation is the Netherlands. Thanks to a highly proportional voting system, 13 parties won seats in the 150-strong assembly there in the 2017 general election.

The coalition government is made up of four parties and took office 225 days after voters cast their ballots. Indeed, some analysts have described the fragmentation trend as “Dutchification”.

Professor Sarah de Lange of the University of Amsterdam said the Dutch had seen a proliferation of parties before, in the 1960s and 1970s, but without today’s range of political positions. “The incumbents have become smaller and the newcomers have got bigger,” she said. “At the same time, the political poles have grown further apart. It is these two developments that have made it harder to govern.”

France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters are being urged to field candidates in the European elections to erode far right leader Marine Le Pen’s support.

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Photographer: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

France’s constitution, which provides for two rounds of voting in presidential and National Assembly elections, both encourages fragmentation and then eliminates it. In 2002 a fractured left failed to back socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round of presidential elections.

This gave the then far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen a place in the run-off, before Jaques Chirac defeated him in the second round. Recommended Gideon Rachman Populism faces its darkest hour Emmanuel Macron won only 24 per cent in the first round vote in the 2017 presidential polls, and three other candidates drew only around 20 per cent each, giving National Front leader Marine Le Pen a place in the run-off. But Mr Macron took the presidency with 66 per cent in the second round.

Now some Macron allies are urging gilets jaunes anti-government protesters to stand in the European elections, a strategy that could help eat into Ms Le Pen’s support. Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system obscures its political fragmentation. Some 82 per cent of voters backed either the Labour or Conservative parties at the 2017 general election, but the two have deep internal divisions on many issues and would be likely to split under a more proportional system. But to many voters, political diversification may be positive.

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“People like congruent choice,” said Professor Sara Hobolt of the London School of Economics.

“They like to have parties that represent their views. “But they also like politicians to do effective governance,” she said. “There is always a trade-off between responsibility and responsiveness. What if they cannot deliver?”


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Catalans protest when Spanish cabinet meets in Barcelona

December 23, 2018

Catalan separatists have blocked roads and clashed with police as Spanish ministers held a cabinet meeting in the regional capital Barcelona.

The decision to move the meeting was aimed at reducing tensions, months after Catalan leaders were jailed for trying to break away from Spain.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan leader Quim Torra agreed on Thursday to an “effective dialogue”.

BBC News
December 21, 2018

People gather during a protest against Spain's cabinet meeting in Barcelona, Spain, December 21, 2018.
Protesters are angered by the decision to hold the cabinet meeting in Catalonia’s regional capital. Reuters photo

But there were violent scenes near the venue where the cabinet assembled.

Friday’s meeting was convened exactly a year after the previous Spanish government held snap elections in Catalonia, a decision seen as provocative by pro-independence groups.

Earlier in the day, more than 20 roads across Catalonia, including the AP7 and A2 motorways, were blocked by protesters as police were deployed in large numbers. The protests were co-ordinated by a radical group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs).

On the AP7, which runs along the Mediterranean coast, protesters sat on the road with their hands in the air. Police dragged them from the carriageway.

Pro-independence supporters block a section of the AP7 motorway in Tarragona, north-eastern Spain, 21 December 2018
Pro-independence supporters blocked the AP7 motorway at Tarragona. EPA photo

As the cabinet meeting got under way, there were clashes between police and protesters in the centre of Barcelona.

Riot police were pelted with objects as they dismantled a barricade thrown up across one of the main streets. About 1,000 protesters nearby were held back by a police cordon.

At tensions rose, officers wielding batons charged protesters and at least four people were arrested. The regional police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, said one man was detained for carrying materials that could be used to make an explosive device.

City health officials said 51 people had been treated for injuries, 30 of them police officers.

Catalan pro-independence protesters stand behind crowd control barricades during a demonstration in Barcelona on December 21, 2018
Police penned protesters back behind cordons in central Barcelona. AFP photo

Meanwhile, a crowd of several thousand people protested peacefully near Barcelona’s Franca rail station. Some held banners reading: “Occupying forces, out.”

One of the demonstrators, Carles Serra, 45, said the timing of the cabinet meeting was a provocation by Madrid.

The CDRs had urged supporters to surround the Llotja de Mar complex in Barcelona where the cabinet was meeting, but they were held back by police, Spanish media reported.

A woman gestures opposite members of the Catalan regional police force in Barcelona on December 21, 2018
Catalonia is still bitterly divided by the independence issue. AFP photo
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Why are protesters so angry with the PM?

Analysis by Guy Hedgecoe, BBC News, Barcelona

Pedro Sánchez originally planned this visit as an opportunity to show his commitment to improving the lives of Catalans. It is not the first time he has held a cabinet meeting outside Madrid – in October, he met with his ministers in Seville.

But the timing of the visit has angered many pro-independence Catalans. The previous Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy called an election in the region exactly a year ago after introducing direct rule there, and so the date has become a sensitive one.

Also, although Mr Sánchez has taken a number of initiatives aimed at restoring confidence between Madrid and the region, many Catalans believe he has not done enough and is merely continuing the rigid policies of Mr Rajoy.

They want him to negotiate the staging of a formal independence referendum and to free nine jailed Catalan politicians, but he says the law allows him to do neither.

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A protester throws a smoke bomb towards police during scuffles at a Catalan pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona on December 21, 2018
Some protesters bombarded police with projectiles before being forced back. AFP photo

On Thursday evening, Mr Sánchez and the Catalan leader held a symbolic meeting and issued a declaration, pledging their “commitment to an effective dialogue that conveys a political proposal with broad support in Catalan society”.

A follow-up meeting between Spain’s vice-president and her Catalan opposite number is to take place next month.

Mr Sánchez came to power as the head of a minority Socialist government in June.

During the meeting, he decreed a 22% increase in Spain’s minimum monthly wage from €736 ($835; £665) to €900, effective from January.

“This is the biggest rise in the minimum wage since 1977 and it will benefit more than 2.5 million people, mostly women,” government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa told reporters after the meeting.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan Regional President Quim Torra talk after a meeting at Palau Reial de Pedralbes in Barcelona, Spain December 20, 2018
PM Pedro Sanchez and Catalan regional president Quim Torra say they will work towards a political solution. Reuters photo
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez holds a weekly cabinet meeting in Barcelona, December 21 2018
Mr Sánchez hoped the cabinet meeting would calm tensions, but the move appeared unsuccessful. Reuters

What is the background?

Catalonia held its disputed vote on 1 October 2017 and its separatist government declared independence on 27 October.

But Spain’s constitutional court deemed the referendum illegal and Madrid imposed direct rule.

Catalonia’s then leader Carles Puigdemont fled into exile in Belgium after the failed independence bid. Other Catalan leaders also fled abroad.

Spain’s Supreme Court has since withdrawn its European Arrest Warrants against Mr Puigdemont and five of his aides who remain in other countries. But the charges against them have not been dropped, meaning they still face arrest if they return to Spain.

Nine former Catalan leaders are in jail awaiting trial for rebellion and other charges linked to the independence referendum. Four of them – Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Jordi Sanchez and Joaquim Forn – ended a 20-day hunger strike on the eve of the cabinet meeting in Barcelona.

Another of the detained leaders, former parliament Speaker Carme Forcadell, is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights to order her release.

Spanish cabinet to meet in Catalonia amid separatist protests

December 21, 2018

Catalan pro-independence groups plan to protest and block roads in Barcelona on Friday as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez holds a cabinet meeting in the city under tight security.

The weekly cabinet meeting usually takes place in Madrid but Sanchez’s six-month-old Socialist government decided to hold it in the Catalan capital as part of its efforts to reduce tensions in Catalonia, which last year made a failed attempt to break away from Spain.

Sanchez and the head of Catalonia’s separatist government, Quim Torra, have expressed commitment to an “effective dialogue” to try to resolve the dispute over the wealthy region’s status within Spain, after the two men held talks in Barcelona on Thursday night.

Catalonia declared independence in October 2017 but to no avail after pushing ahead with a banned independence referendum

Catalonia declared independence in October 2017 but to no avail after pushing ahead with a banned independence referendum  AFP/File

The government will use the cabinet meeting which will get underway at 10 am (0900 GMT) to approve a 22 percent increase in the minimum wage, a pay hike for public workers and announce investments in infrastructure projects in Catalonia, which is home to some 7.5 million people and has its own language.

But the timing of the meeting — a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in the region after blocking its move for independence — has been called “a provocation” by separatist leaders.

– ‘Ungovernable’ –

A radical separatist group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), has vowed to try to stop the cabinet meeting from going ahead by circling the building where it will be held.

The group has blocked highways and railways in the past, and tried to enter the Catalan regional parliament by force.

“We will be ungovernable on December 21,” the group has repeatedly tweeted.

Grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has previously staged massive pro-independence street demonstrations in Barcelona, has urged supporters to block the streets of Barcelona on Friday with their vehicles.

About 20 pro-independence groups, including the ANC, called on their supporters to march through the streets of Barcelona at 6 pm (1700 GMT).

Amid fears of violence on the part of radical separatists, the Spanish government has sent police reinforcements to Barcelona and Catalan leaders have repeated their call for peaceful protests.

– Divergent positions –

Catalonia declared independence in October 2017 but to no avail after pushing ahead with a banned independence referendum.

Sanchez took office as prime minister eight months later after winning a surprise vote of no-confidence against the previous conservative government with the support of Catalan separatist parties.

He initially adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Catalonia than his conservative predecessor but the effort to ease tensions with Catalonia eventually hit a wall.

Catalan separatists also announced that they would not vote in favour of the leader’s 2019 budget after public prosecutors in November called for stiff prison sentences for 18 pro-independence leaders facing trial over the region’s failed secession bid.

Sanchez adopted a harder line after far-right and anti-separatist party Vox won seats for the first time earlier this month in a regional election in Andalusia, a Socialist stronghold.

During a recent debate in parliament, Sanchez compared Catalonia’s break-away movement to Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union. Both were built on “a tale of invented grievances, magnified by manipulation”, he said.

His tone changed after his meeting with Torra, although the solutions to the Catalan conflict proposed by the two leaders remain distinct.

Sanchez has proposed giving Catalonia more powers while Torra wants a legally binding referendum on independence.

“We know that the initial positions are very divergent but we have to see how we advance,” Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said.



Spanish government to meet in Barcelona amid separatist protests

December 20, 2018

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will hold a cabinet meeting in Barcelona on Friday amid tight security as Catalan pro-independence groups plan to hold protests and block roads in the region.

The meeting comes a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in Catalonia after blocking the wealthy northeastern region’s move for independence and many separatists have called the timing of the meeting “a provocation”.

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

In protest, the powerful grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has previously staged massive pro-independence street demonstrations in Barcelona, urged its supporters to block the streets of the Catalan capital with their vehicles.

Radical grassroots group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), also plans to meet near the palace where the cabinet meeting will be held. Its members have clashed with police in the past.

“We will be ungovernable on December 21,” the group said in a tweet, accompanied by a picture of Spain’s King Felipe VI on fire.

Image result for Catalan pro-independence, spain, photos

Pro-independence groups are also planning to march through the streets of Barcelona on Friday afternoon after the meeting which will get under way at 10 am (0900 GMT).

Tight security is expected to cordon off the palace where the Spanish government will gather.

– ‘Not a provocation’ –

Separatists are still reeling from the steps Spain’s central government took to block Catalonia’s independence bid.

In October 2017, Catalan leaders pushed ahead with a controversial independence referendum despite a court ban, then declared independence on the basis of the results.

Separatists are still reeling from the steps Spain's central government took to block Catalonia's independence bid

Separatists are still reeling from the steps Spain’s central government took to block Catalonia’s independence bid Separatists are still reeling from the steps Spain’s central government took to block Catalonia’s independence bid AFP

The then conservative Spanish government responded by deposing the Catalan executive, dissolving the regional parliament and calling snap elections for December 21.

Separatist parties again won a majority in the Catalan parliament in the election, even though many candidates were in jail or self-imposed exiled over their role in the failed independence bid.

Spain’s Supreme Court last October ordered 18 former Catalan separatist leaders to stand trial over the independence bid.

Nine defendants are being held in jail ahead of their trial, which is expected to start in early 2019.

Image result for Catalan pro-independence, spain, photos

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said Wednesday that the Barcelona cabinet meeting “was not a provocation”.

Sanchez’s six-month-old Socialist government already held a cabinet meeting in the southern city of Seville in October.

– ‘Not enough’ –

The prime minister will meet with the head of the Catalan regional government, Quim Torra, on Thursday on the eve of the cabinet meeting.

Sanchez took office in June after winning a surprise vote of no-confidence in parliament against the previous conservative government which was backed by Catalan separatist parties.

The separatists withdrew their support for his government after public prosecutors in November called for prison sentences of up to 25 years for the 18 Catalan separatist leaders facing trial next year.

Sanchez initially adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Catalonia than his predecessor, prompting accusations from the right that he was weak in the face of separatists who threaten to break up Spain.

But his tone has hardened after far-right party Vox, which takes a tough line against Catalan separatism, won seats for the first time in a regional parliament during an early election on December 2 in Andalusia, a Socialist stronghold.

During a debate in parliament earlier this month Sanchez said Catalan separatists “only have lies to back their political positions”.

Catalan vice president Pere Aragones said the first months of Sanchez’s government were “a breath of fresh air”.

“But fresh air is not enough, there have to be concrete measures. The longer it takes for the State to recognise that there is a political problem here that needs to be resolved with courage, the harder it will be to find a solution,” he told AFP.


Spain prosecutors seek up to 25 years jail for Catalan separatists

November 2, 2018

Spanish prosecutors called Friday for Catalan separatist leaders to be jailed for up to 25 years on charges of rebellion or misuse of public funds over last year’s failed secession bid.

In a statement ahead of an upcoming Supreme Court trial, the prosecution service said it was seeking prison sentences against 12 Catalan leaders ranging from seven to 25 years, the latter jail term being sought for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras.

Spanish prosecutors are seeking a 25-year jail term for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, pictured above. (AFP)

But in a sign Spain’s socialist government disagreed, the attorney general’s office announced it would ask for just 12 years jail for Junqueras, accusing him of sedition and misuse of public funds rather than the more serious charge of rebellion.

The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019 — more than a year after Catalan leaders attempted to break from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.

Spain’s then conservative government moved swiftly to depose the Catalan executive, dissolve the regional parliament and call snap local elections in December.

Some Catalan leaders like deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont fled abroad, while others like Junqueras remained and were put into custody pending the trial.

Apart from Junqueras, prosecutors want two influential Catalan civic leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, and former regional parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell jailed for 17 years.

In a separate case, they said they were also seeking four to 11 years jail against former regional police leaders including Catalonia’s then police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, whom they also accuse of rebellion.

In its statement, the prosecution service said pro-independence leaders planned to use all possible means to achieve secession, “including — knowing that the state wouldn’t accept this situation — any violence needed to secure this criminal result.”

It said separatist leaders had instigated “big citizen mobilizations” that represented an “intimidating force” and had also used the regional police force, with its 17,000 agents, which followed their orders.

The charge of rebellion has caused controversy in Spain, not just among those who support Catalan independence but further afield among legal experts.

According to Spanish law, rebellion is “rising up in a violent and public manner,” to among other things “breach, suspend or change the constitution” or “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory.”
Military officers behind a 1981 attempted coup in Spain were found guilty of rebellion, for instance.

But many legal experts contest the use of rebellion in the Catalan case, saying there was no violence during the secession bid, bar that waged by Spanish police on October 1, 2017 as they tried to stop people from voting in the banned referendum.


Catalan government accused of playing ‘dangerous’ game after unrest

October 2, 2018

Catalonia’s separatist executive came under fire Tuesday, accused of playing a “dangerous” game after the regional leader encouraged radical independence activists to carry out disruptive acts on the anniversary of a banned referendum that culminated in clashes.

Hundreds of separatist protesters knocked down barriers at the regional parliament in Barcelona on Monday evening, clashing with police in stark contrast with the usually peaceful nature of Catalonia’s independence movement.

Analysts said this reflected the movement’s divisions and lack of direction, with some pushing for direct confrontation with Madrid and others calling for moderation, while at the same time trying to keep the spirit of last year’s secession bid alive.

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Elsa Artadi

Reacting to the clashes, Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi acknowledged it was “the first time that we are faced with this situation within the independence movement.”

She told Catalan television that a “minority” took part in the unrest.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez rapped regional leader Quim Torra, asking him to “not endanger political normalisation by encouraging radicals to lay siege to institutions which represent all Catalans.”

“Violence isn’t the way forward,” Sanchez, who is attempting to negotiate with Catalan leaders and also depends on separatist lawmakers to prop up his minority government, said in a tweet.

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

– ‘Very dangerous’ –

Monday’s clashes forced the leader in Catalonia of anti-secession party Ciudadanos to leave the building under escort in unrest that topped a restive day in the northeastern region that remains sharply divided on independence.

Radical activists called by a group naming itself the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), many of them hooded, cut roads and railway lines, encouraged by Torra — a staunch independence supporter himself.

“The (independence) movement is divided between radicals and an executive that isn’t sure where to go, and which is also divided,” said Oriol Bartomeus, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“I think Torra shares the CDRs’ ideas but he knows perfectly well that the independence movement will lose if it goes down that road.

“Torra is in the middle,” he said, describing the situation as ” very dangerous.”

In an editorial, Catalonia’s El Periodico daily wrote that “much has changed, it seems, in just one year,” accusing Torra and his regional ministers of playing a “double game” it described as “unsustainable.”

Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on October 1, 2017 was marred by a violent crackdown by police ordered to stop peaceful voters from casting their ballot, in footage that went around the world.

A year later, the tables appeared to have turned with images of radical independence supporters cutting roads and railway lines, muscling their way into a government building and clashing with police.

– Violence condemned –

Miquel Iceta, head of the Socialist party in Catalonia, told Spanish radio the unrest “highlighted that a regional president cannot encourage mobilisation if he is then unable to guarantee security.”

He said it also showed “that the Catalan government’s discourse, as it is far from reality, generates frustration and violence among its most radical followers.”

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Miquel Iceta, head of the Socialist party in Catalonia

Even former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-exile in Belgium after last October’s secession bid, condemned the violence.

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Carles Puigdemont

“If they are hooded they’re not from the 1-0,” he tweeted in reference to the referendum last year, which went ahead despite a court ban and eventually led to a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.

That prompted then conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy to sack the regional government, dissolve the Catalan parliament and call snap local elections.

“If they use violence they’re not from the 1-0. We did it with our faces uncovered and in a peaceful way,” Puigdemont added.